So your job at Jim Nuzum Mitsubishi isn’t so bad. You’ve gotten a few laughs, sold a few cars, but what you really need is a stage. You find yourself walking home past Snickers comedy club at night and listening through the walls as comedians – comedians you think you remember from the Tonight Show or Comedy Central – bring the house down.
You’ve got to give it one more try. Despite the gentle protestations from your wife and your friends and your boss at Jim Nuzum Mitsubishi, you sign up for another amateur night.
The following Monday, at 8:47 sharp, you slide onto the stage in your Converse high tops – the official shoe of choice for most comedians – just as the MC announces your name.
“How’s everybody doing here!” you say, scanning the tables in the front. Only you meant to say, “How’s everybody doing tonight.” Crap! You hope that doesn’t ruin everything.
There’s a long pause. You can hear ice cubes clinking. Someone clears their throat.
“Are you talking about just there by you or over here, too?” a guy from the back yells.
“I meant ‘here,’ as in everybody in the room,” you say, your voice cracking. You knew this would happen.
“Well, we’re doing all right, I guess,” the guy says.
You notice as a tiny blond head appears from the doorway by the reception area. It’s the ticket girl.
“What about me? I know I’m not in the room, per se, but would you like to know how I’m doing?”
You shake your head. There is the sound of sudden sobbing, followed by a door slamming.
“All right!” you say. You can’t even remember your first joke. You point to a middle aged couple in front of you: “How are you folks? Where are you from?”
“We’re doing fine, and we’re from right here in Pittsburgh,” the man says, smiling and nodding. He points to his wife. “She might be a prostitute. Please debase me.”
“A prostitute, huh?”
It’s all you can think of to say. You mumble it again into the microphone, “a prostitute.”
There’s nothing funny about that. You look at the other tables in front of you: there’s a mixed-race couple, some midgets, a priest and an alter boy, and a table full of lesbians. At a table on the next row back is Dick Cheney and Al Gore. You start to sweat. Your head is swimming.
You decide to remove the microphone from the stand. Yours is a very dynamic and physical sort of humor, and you need to be free to walk around the stage. Unfortunately, you pull too hard on the microphone and it punches you in the side of the head. Wow! You stagger backwards and take a knee, your back to the people. They all seem to exhale at once.
“You OK, buddy?” the MC says, putting a hand on your back.
You clench your eyes shut, warding off tears of both pain and utter embarrassment, then stand up and wobble back towards the front of the stage. Suddenly, you’re walking in a tunnel, and you feel yourself sprawling forward. You hear a midget scream as you hit the stage, then nothing. You’re drifting in an inky, black void.
When you come to, there’s something sweet running down your face. Grenadine? you think, licking your lips. The alter boy must have thrown his Roy Rogers on you.
You sit up, and wipe a hand across your cheek: blood. Slowly, you stand up, blinking at the people in the crowd as they go in and out of focus. They look worried.
“So,” you say, taking a few, hesitant steps. “Everybody here has…uh…gone through airport security, right?”
“Well, no,” says Al Gore, “not recently.”
“Except for you,” you say, “obviously.”
“And me,” says Dick Cheney.
“And you,” you say, just as your foot slips off the front of the stage. You pitch forward and fall flat on top of the table where the midgets are sitting. It collapses. You stumble to your feet and look down. Your chest and stomach are peppered with shards of glass, and a plastic harpoon with an orange slice dangling from it is stabbed into your left shoulder. You shriek.
There’s some scattered laughter as you frantically pull thin triangles of glass from your flesh.
“They…they should call that airport… airport insecurity, am I right?”
No laughter. You start to whimper, “am I right? Am I right?”
Then, at the back of the room, in the half-light by the empty tables, you spot a large, female lion. You watch as she slinks in and out of the chairs and tables, her long tail twisting languidly in the air. You scan the rest of the room and count several others, one at the bar, two at the coat check area. They’re watching you. They all have that affected, studied sense of disinterest that lions seem to share, but they’re watching you. You know it.
You drop the microphone to your side and look over at the MC with a pleading look on your face: “Lions?”
He shrugs. They were here when we bought the place, he whispers.
Well, that’s just weird. What kind of maniac buys a comedy club full of lions?
“Who’s been reading about this whole thing with Rod Blagojevich?” you ask, nervously. Some people nod.
“What kind of name is that, anyway? Blag-oy-ah –” but you don’t finish because you’re being attacked by lions.
“Let’s hear it for Stan Harrison!” the MC says, but you can barely hear him over your own shrieks of terror.
Later that night you head home, exhausted. There are still small pieces of glass embedded in your chest, you have a slight concussion, and the lions ripped you up pretty good, but you did manage to tell a joke. Granted, it wasn’t your best joke, but you told a joke! You breath deeply, celebrating your small success. Next week you’ll tell two jokes, and the week after that, four. And so on.
As you approach your front door there’s a rustling in the bushes and a young girl steps into the driveway. She’s young, blond, and she’s obviously been crying, a lot. Mascara and eyeshadow cover her cheeks and – judging by her posture and lack of motor control – she’s been drinking. By the smell of it, tequila.
“Well, if it isn’t the funnyman,” she says. And then you recognize her: it’s the ticket girl from the club.
“You don’t care about me, do you?” she asks.
You stare at her, confused. Suddenly, from nowhere, she pulls out a gun and points it at your face: “ask me how I’m doing.”
“How are you doing?” you say, quickly.
“Say it like you mean it!”
“How are you doing?”
“Oh, I’m all right,” she says. “Now ask if I’m having a good time.”
“Are you having a good time?”
“Yeaaahhh!” she says, raising her hands over her head.
Then, silence. You both stand there, saying nothing, listening to the crickets. You rustle some change in your pockets. She looks up at the stars, and you do, too.
“OK. See ya,” she says, walking off down your driveway.
Like that, your comedy career is over, again. It’s just too stressful.